Clockwise from top left, the asteroids shown here are 29 Amphitrite, 324 Bamberga, 2 Pallas, and 89 JuliaCredit: ESO/Vernazza et al.

Pallas, our solar system’s third largest and wholly unexplored asteroid, is the target for a potential SmallSat NASA flyby mission for possible launch in2022 This remnant protoplanet, in fact, remains the largest unexplored planetary body inside the orbit of Neptune.

Dubbed Athena, this small satellite mission spacecraft would be about the size of a minifridge, but potentially have a payload of up to 400 lbs. It would share the same launcher as Psyche, NASA’s planned robotic mission to the asteroid 16 Psyche. However, after launch, both missions would go their separate ways and Athena would unfold its various bits and solar panels and begin its journey two-year journey to Pallas.

“Because Pallas is unexplored, it is a more compelling destination now for a small mission like Athena that is designed to pluck low-hanging [scientific] fruit,” Arizona State University planetary scientist Joseph O’Rourke, Athena’s principal investigator, told me.

Pallas is fascinating as an individual object, he says, but perhaps even more compelling as a missing link between the dwarf planet Ceres and Vesta, which after Ceres, is the second most massive body in the main asteroid belt.

“We’re competing against 11 other SmallSat and CubeSat mission proposals with selections by NASA for the next round of development anticipated in mid-April,” said O’Rourke. “I’m tortured by optimism.”

Discovered serendipitously in 1802 during observations of Ceres, Pallas has long been an odd protoplanetary duck. Aside from a somewhat elliptical path around the Sun, it has an orbital inclination of almost 35 degrees. That means its orbit takes it up and down through the plane of the ecliptic, the imaginary plane of Earth’s own orbit around the Sun.

Lying at roughly 3 AU (Earth-Sun distances), Pallas crosses the orbit of both Ceres and Vesta, says O’Rourke but all three are in similar regions in the main asteroid belt.

Orbit and inclination of Pallas.Credit: Wikipedia

What’s the origin of its odd inclination?

UCLA planetary scientist Christopher Russell told me that the likely origin of its high inclination is a close encounter with a similarly sized or larger asteroid.

If Athena is funded, its journey with the Psyche spacecraft payload would take it less than two years to reach Pallas. O’Rourke says the idea is to begin science observations within a few days of Athena’s closest approach to Pallas.

“We’d track the spacecraft’s radio signals during the encounter but probably spend more than a month afterward downlinking images,” said O’Rourke who notes that communicating with Earth from the main asteroid belt is not a trivial task for a SmallSat.

But the proposed launch has fortuitous timing in two respects, says O’Rourke. We encounter Pallas as it crosses the ecliptic, he says, and we use a Mars gravity assist, stealing some orbital energy to slingshot ourselves into the asteroid belt.

With a diameter of some 512 km and gravity only about 1/40th that of Earth, Pallas is known to have formed in a water-rich environment. Thus, Athena’s science goals include determining if Pallas might have a water-rich mantle and crust and learning more about high-velocity impacts on its surface.

Pallas is also the parent of a large impact family, says O’Rourke. This includes many near-Earth asteroids and in particular (3200) Phaethon, a small near-Earth rocky asteroid that is the source of the annual Geminid meteor showers.

What do we know about Pallas?

“We don’t know much,” Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and an Athena proposal team member told me. She says Pallas looks like a lot of asteroids with a dark surface reflectivity and evidence for hydration (in which water is chemically combined with minerals). But Castillo-Rogez says it does not look like Ceres which displays evidence for ammonia and carbonates. So, Pallas likely does not come from the same region of the solar system as Ceres, she says.

“We can’t really tell where and when Pallas formed,” said Castillo-Rogez, who notes that the current state of understanding of the origin of water-rich versus water-poor bodies is that the former formed farther away from the Sun and slightly later than the water-poor bodies. How far and early is yet to be determined, she says.

But O’Rourke says he expects that Pallas will provide fascinating examples of planetary processes on a small body; including volcanism, surface geology, and internal geophysics.

As for its age?

It almost certainly formed within roughly the first 100 million years of solar system history, and possibly much earlier, says O’Rourke. In fact, he says, Pallas seems “intact,” meaning that it does not have the irregular shape expected if it broke off a larger body.

But Castillo-Rogez says that while there is no evidence of organics at Pallas, however, Pallas’ low albedo could be evidence for the presence of carbon in its regolith.

As for what’s most puzzling about Pallas?

Recent observations by the very large telescope show the presence of at least one bright spot on Pallas, says Castillo-Rogez. “On Ceres, bright spots have been characterized as salt-rich deposits,” she said. “High-resolution imaging should tell whether we’re dealing with salt deposits or something else.”

However, salt deposits would represent evidence for protracted interaction between water and rock, says Castillo-Rogez. That would mean that Pallas could have hosted liquid water for long enough to enable chemical reactions that would create minerals and organics. But Castillo-Rogez says if Pallas ever harbored something on the order of an ocean, it would have been small and short-lived.

What about sending an orbiter and lander to Pallas?

O’Rourke says a flyby is the first step in exploring Pallas. Future orbiting, landing and sample return missions are all possible, he says, but require progressively more complex and thus expensive spacecraft.

“First-order characterization and geologic mapping of Pallas by a small, innovative mission like Athena are vital to planning detailed follow-up measurements for a future mission,” said O’Rourke.

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Clockwise from leading left, the asteroids revealed here are29 Amphitrite,(******************************************** )Bamberga, 2 Pallas, and89 Julia Credit: ESO/Vernazza et al.

Pallas, our planetary system’s 3rd biggest and entirely uncharted asteroid, is the target for a prospective SmallSat NASA flyby objective for possible launch in2022 This residue protoplanet, in reality, stays the biggest uncharted planetary body inside the orbit of Neptune.

Called Athena, this little satellite objective spacecraft would have to do with the size of a minifridge, however possibly have a payload of as much as 400 pounds. It would share the very same launcher as Mind, NASA’s prepared robotic objective to the asteroid 16 Mind. Nevertheless, after launch, both objectives would go their different methods and Athena would unfold its different bits and photovoltaic panels and start its journey two-year journey to Pallas.

” Since Pallas is uncharted, it is a more engaging location now for a little objective like Athena that is developed to pluck low-hanging [scientific] fruit,” Arizona State University planetary researcher Joseph O’Rourke, Athena’s primary private investigator, informed me.

(************* )Pallas is interesting as a specific things, he states, however maybe much more engaging as a missing out on link in between the dwarf world Ceres and Vesta, which after Ceres, is the 2nd most huge body in the primary asteroid belt.

” We’re contending versus 11 other SmallSat and CubeSat objective propositions with choices by NASA for the next round of advancement prepared for in mid-April,” stated O’Rourke. “I’m tortured by optimism.”

Found serendipitously in(************************************* )throughout observations of Ceres, Pallas has actually long been an odd protoplanetary duck. Aside from a rather elliptical course around the Sun, it has an orbital disposition of practically 35 degrees. That implies its orbit takes it up and down through the airplane of the ecliptic, the fictional airplane of Earth’s own orbit around the Sun.

Lying at approximately 3 AU (Earth-Sun ranges), Pallas crosses the orbit of both Ceres and Vesta, states O’Rourke however all 3 remain in comparable areas in the primary asteroid belt.

(******** )(********* )Orbit and disposition of Pallas. Credit: Wikipedia

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What’s the origin of its odd disposition?

(************* )UCLA planetary researcher Christopher Russell informed me that the most likely origin of its high disposition is a close encounter with a likewise sized or bigger asteroid.

If Athena is moneyed, its journey with the Mind spacecraft payload would take it less than 2 years to reach Pallas. O’Rourke states the concept is to start science observations within a couple of days of Athena’s closest technique to Pallas.

” We ‘d track the spacecraft’s radio signals throughout the encounter however most likely invest more than a month later downlinking images,” stated O’Rourke who keeps in mind that interacting with Earth from the primary asteroid belt is not an unimportant job for a SmallSat.

However the proposed launch has fortuitous timing in 2 aspects, states O’Rourke. We come across Pallas as it crosses the ecliptic, he states, and we utilize a Mars gravity help, taking some orbital energy to slingshot ourselves into the asteroid belt.

With a size of some 512 km and gravity just about 1/40 th that of Earth, Pallas is understood to have actually formed in a water-rich environment. Hence, Athena’s science objectives consist of figuring out if Pallas may have a water-rich mantle and crust and discovering more about high-velocity influence on its surface area.

Pallas is likewise the moms and dad of a big effect household, states O’Rourke. This consists of numerous near-Earth asteroids and in specific (3200) Phaethon, a little near-Earth rocky asteroid that is the source of the yearly Geminid meteor showers.

What do we understand about Pallas?

” We do not understand much,” Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and an Athena proposition employee informed me. She states Pallas appears like a great deal of asteroids with a dark surface area reflectivity and proof for hydration (in which water is chemically integrated with minerals). However Castillo-Rogez states it does not look like Ceres which shows proof for ammonia and carbonates. So, Pallas likely does not originate from the very same area of the planetary system as Ceres, she states.

” We can’t truly inform where and when Pallas formed,” stated Castillo-Rogez, who keeps in mind that the present state of understanding of the origin of water-rich versus water-poor bodies is that the previous formed further away from the Sun and somewhat behind the water-poor bodies. How far and early is yet to be figured out, she states.

However O’Rourke states he anticipates that Pallas will offer interesting examples of planetary procedures on a little body; consisting of volcanism, surface area geology, and internal geophysics.

When it comes to its age?

It probably formed within approximately the very first 100 million years of planetary system history, and perhaps much previously, states O’Rourke. In reality, he states, Pallas appears “undamaged,” indicating that it does not have the irregular shape anticipated if it broke off a bigger body.

However Castillo-Rogez states that while there is no proof of organics at Pallas, nevertheless, Pallas’ low albedo might be proof for the existence of carbon in its regolith.

When It Comes To what’s most confusing about Pallas?

Current observations by the huge telescope reveal the existence of a minimum of one brilliant area on Pallas, states Castillo-Rogez. “On Ceres, brilliant areas have actually been defined as salt-rich deposits,” she stated. “High-resolution imaging must inform whether we’re handling salt deposits or something else.”

Nevertheless, salt deposits would represent proof for lengthy interaction in between water and rock, states Castillo-Rogez. That would indicate that Pallas might have hosted liquid water for enough time to allow chain reactions that would produce minerals and organics. However Castillo-Rogez states if Pallas ever harbored something on the order of an ocean, it would have been little and temporary.

What about sending out an orbiter and lander to Pallas?

O’Rourke states a flyby is the initial step in checking out Pallas. Future orbiting, landing and sample return objectives are all possible, he states, however need gradually more complicated and therefore costly spacecraft.

” First-order characterization and geologic mapping of Pallas by a little, ingenious objective like Athena are essential to preparing comprehensive follow-up measurements for a future objective,” stated O’Rourke.

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33942353126″ >

.

Clockwise from leading left, the asteroids revealed here are 29 Amphitrite, 324 Bamberga, 2 Pallas, and 89 Julia Credit: ESO/Vernazza et al.

.

.

Pallas, our planetary system’s 3rd biggest and entirely uncharted asteroid, is the target for a prospective SmallSat NASA flyby objective for possible launch in2022 This residue protoplanet, in reality, stays the biggest uncharted planetary body inside the orbit of Neptune.

Called Athena, this little satellite objective spacecraft would have to do with the size of a minifridge, however possibly have a payload of as much as 400 pounds. It would share the very same launcher as Mind, NASA’s prepared robotic objective to the asteroid 16 Mind. Nevertheless, after launch, both objectives would go their different methods and Athena would unfold its different bits and photovoltaic panels and start its journey two-year journey to Pallas.

“Since Pallas is uncharted, it is a more engaging location now for a little objective like Athena that is developed to pluck low-hanging [scientific] fruit,” Arizona State University planetary researcher Joseph O’Rourke, Athena’s primary private investigator, informed me.

Pallas is interesting as a specific things, he states, however maybe much more engaging as a missing out on link in between the dwarf world Ceres and Vesta , which after Ceres, is the 2nd most huge body in the primary asteroid belt.

“We’re contending versus 11 other SmallSat and CubeSat objective propositions with choices by NASA for the next round of advancement prepared for in mid-April,” stated O’Rourke. “I’m tortured by optimism.”

Found serendipitously in 1802 throughout observations of Ceres, Pallas has actually long been an odd protoplanetary duck. Aside from a rather elliptical course around the Sun, it has an orbital disposition of practically 35 degrees. That implies its orbit takes it up and down through the airplane of the ecliptic, the fictional airplane of Earth’s own orbit around the Sun.

Lying at approximately 3 AU (Earth-Sun ranges), Pallas crosses the orbit of both Ceres and Vesta , states O’Rourke however all 3 remain in comparable areas in the primary asteroid belt.

.

.

Orbit and disposition of Pallas. Credit: Wikipedia

.

.

What’s the origin of its odd disposition?

UCLA planetary researcher Christopher Russell informed me that the most likely origin of its high disposition is a close encounter with a likewise sized or bigger asteroid.

If Athena is moneyed, its journey with the Mind spacecraft payload would take it less than 2 years to reach Pallas. O’Rourke states the concept is to start science observations within a couple of days of Athena’s closest technique to Pallas.

“We ‘d track the spacecraft’s radio signals throughout the encounter however most likely invest more than a month later downlinking images,” stated O’Rourke who keeps in mind that interacting with Earth from the primary asteroid belt is not an unimportant job for a SmallSat.

However the proposed launch has fortuitous timing in 2 aspects, states O’Rourke. We come across Pallas as it crosses the ecliptic, he states, and we utilize a Mars gravity help, taking some orbital energy to slingshot ourselves into the asteroid belt.

With a size of some 512 km and gravity just about 1/ 40 th that of Earth, Pallas is understood to have actually formed in a water-rich environment. Hence, Athena’s science objectives consist of figuring out if Pallas may have a water-rich mantle and crust and discovering more about high-velocity influence on its surface area.

Pallas is likewise the moms and dad of a big effect household, states O’Rourke. This consists of numerous near-Earth asteroids and in specific (3200) Phaethon, a little near-Earth rocky asteroid that is the source of the yearly Geminid meteor showers.

What do we understand about Pallas?

“We do not understand much,” Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and an Athena proposition employee informed me. She states Pallas appears like a great deal of asteroids with a dark surface area reflectivity and proof for hydration (in which water is chemically integrated with minerals). However Castillo-Rogez states it does not look like Ceres which shows proof for ammonia and carbonates. So, Pallas likely does not originate from the very same area of the planetary system as Ceres, she states.

“We can’t truly inform where and when Pallas formed,” stated Castillo-Rogez, who keeps in mind that the present state of understanding of the origin of water-rich versus water-poor bodies is that the previous formed further away from the Sun and somewhat behind the water-poor bodies. How far and early is yet to be figured out, she states.

However O’Rourke states he anticipates that Pallas will offer interesting examples of planetary procedures on a little body; consisting of volcanism, surface area geology, and internal geophysics.

When it comes to its age?

It probably formed within approximately the very first 100 million years of planetary system history, and perhaps much previously, states O’Rourke. In reality, he states, Pallas appears “undamaged,” indicating that it does not have the irregular shape anticipated if it broke off a bigger body.

However Castillo-Rogez states that while there is no proof of organics at Pallas, nevertheless, Pallas’ low albedo might be proof for the existence of carbon in its regolith.

When It Comes To what’s most confusing about Pallas?

Current observations by the huge telescope reveal the existence of a minimum of one brilliant area on Pallas, states Castillo-Rogez. “On Ceres, brilliant areas have actually been defined as salt-rich deposits,” she stated. “High-resolution imaging must inform whether we’re handling salt deposits or something else.”

Nevertheless, salt deposits would represent proof for lengthy interaction in between water and rock, states Castillo-Rogez. That would indicate that Pallas might have hosted liquid water for enough time to allow chain reactions that would produce minerals and organics. However Castillo-Rogez states if Pallas ever harbored something on the order of an ocean, it would have been little and temporary.

What about sending out an orbiter and lander to Pallas?

O’Rourke states a flyby is the initial step in checking out Pallas. Future orbiting, landing and sample return objectives are all possible, he states, however need gradually more complicated and therefore costly spacecraft.

“First-order characterization and geologic mapping of Pallas by a little, ingenious objective like Athena are essential to preparing comprehensive follow-up measurements for a future objective,” stated O’Rourke.

.